Clemson researcher receives Komen grant

05/28/04

CLEMSON A Clemson University scientist has received $250,000 to pursue a promising line of research for a way to treat breast cancer. Wen Y. Chen, associate professor in Clemson's department of biological sciences and assistant director of the Oncology Research Institute of Greenville Hospital System, has received funding from the prestigious Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in Dallas. He is the first scientist from South Carolina to receive a Komen Foundation grant. Chen will use the money to further his research on stopping breast cancer cells from developing.

"We are excited and grateful for this grant," said Chen. "It signals that we are on the right track. In the past five years, we have focused on developing a potential treatment for breast cancer. With this grant we can move ahead on testing whether the combination approach will significantly improve the existing treatment in an aggressive subtype of breast cancer."

Scientists have learned that human prolactin (PRL), a hormone normally produced in the brain and mainly responsible for mammary gland development and milk production, may be involved in breast cancer development.

"The involvement of PRL in breast cancer is likely due to, in some cases, the fact that mutated breast cells produce PRL as their own survival-growth factor, which keeps most growth signal at "on" position," said Chen. "This self-sustained, vicious growth ability eventually leads to cancer formation."

To "turn off" these growth signals induced by PRL, scientists set out to develop a counteragent -- an antagonist. Working with his colleagues and graduate students at the Oncology Research Institute, Chen has demonstrated that a mutated PRL, called PRL antagonist (G129R), is able to bind specifically to breast cancer cells and block the effect of PRL, inhibiting tumor growth in mice. What's more, the PRL antagonist has synergistic effects with the breast cancer drug Herceptin, which has only 30 percent response rate.

Chen will use the Komen Foundation funding to further establish the molecular bases of the combination of PRL antagonist and Herceptin . "We hope that our research results will soon be translated into clinic and contribute to the battle against breast cancer," said Chen. More than 200,000 new U.S. breast cancer cases are diagnosed each year. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women and can be diagnosed in men.

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. If the spread is unabated, it can result in death. Cancer is caused by both external factors, such as radiation and chemicals, and internal factors, such as hormones, genetic mutations and immune conditions.

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